Dale Wolford

Saxophonist

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Boy was I fooled! (aka—Tonguing issues with students)

Have you ever had a student who tongued pretty well, but the tone of the attack seemed a little less than desirable? I’m usually pretty good at hearing and diagnosing this issue, but found out today that sometimes a student can “fool” me!

I have a tenor sax student that has studied with me for almost 2 years. He’s a strong player with lots of technique and good ears. We’ve been working on getting control of his pitch and tone quality regularly during that time. I finally decided he needed to work on what I call, the
“Morosco Exercise.” This is an exercise I learned from Victor Morosco that helps students get control of their jaw pressure to control pitch and also play throughout the saxophone range without changing their embouchure, something most students have a hard time doing as they move from low to high to low range.

It’s an exercise that requires the student to play at maximum volume starting with slow 1/8th notes with breath attack, then with tongue attack. You have to do it without letting the pitch scoop and with consistent tone quality from note to note.

This student had only done the exercise for one week and when I had him do it tonight, he had a little trouble not being “pitchy” on the breath attacks, but was able to fix it. But when he went to tongue (at the
fff dynamic!) his tongue sounded very weird. I always tell them to say “Tu” as you would with a French accent when tonguing. I asked him how he was approaching the reed with his tongue. He opened his mouth and showed me that he was starting with his tongue at the roof of his mouth, then coming DOWN to the mouthpiece!!! Not from the bottom of his mouth.

After working with him to tongue correctly—which was very difficult, since he’s been playing this way for 4 years—I gave him an exercise to develop this as quickly as possible. But what floored me, was that he had been doing this for so long, including with his previous teacher, who is a good teacher, and neither of us had caught it. I think if I had worked with him on etudes with fast tonguing, it would have been obvious. But he’s mostly a jazz player and sounds great on legato swing articulation so was able to hide this issue.

The moral of the story, as I have always known, is to have students do fast tonguing early on so you can check for CORRECT tonguing!

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